Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015-Year in Review

Personal Work/Patreon
My Patreon support has dipped here at the end of the year but it was great for motivating me to work on my own stuff.  Now that I'm really shooting for book covers I think these pieces will help more than most of my regular client work would.

Cthaeh

Tranquil

Trap

Endliktgelaben

Vision

The Island

Castaway


Client Work/Properties
At the end of the year I got to work on a huge property. One where I'll be able to drop it's name and regular people on the street might know what it is. That's really the first time I could say that. Here at the end of the year I've been able to get a couple book covers some of which I can't post the finals for yet so that's great.

Undercrypt Scar
 
Defensive Archers

Bureaucrat

Twilight of the Gods

Lucas Hale


Unhelpful Work
About 9/40 of the works I have released(more like 9 of 50 completed) from this year were unhelpful to my career and were just done for the money. There was also about a month and a half of hourly art work that I haven't released that doesn't really further my career either. I wish that number were better but I believe it is better than previous years if only because I did fewer pieces this year which meant I got to spend more time than usual on each piece.

Community
I've heard that it's best to try to do a good job of participating in one community/social media  rather than try to tackle them all. So I've started trying to participate a little more and be more interactive with the community on DeviantArt. I've been giving a lot more critiques and plan to continue. 

Tools
I found some new tools this year that I'm loving. Paintstorm Studio is helping me to feel more comfortable when I'm making certain artwork. I'm always e-mailing the company reporting bugs or asking for features and they are great at fixing and implementing things.

Conventions
I went to GDC and Spectrum this year and didn't do any of my normal conventions. Earlier in the year I was thinking that I needed to devote myself to video game stuff if I wanted to make money so I went to GDC. I really didn't have the portfolio together to get that kind of work and it wasn't nearly the venue for landing work that it was 8 or so years ago. So while that was a waste of money it had a big effect. It made it clear that I needed to make a very specific portfolio to get the video game work I wanted. The problem was I really couldn't see myself being motivated enough to make that kind of work on my own which tells me that I shouldn't pursue it.

I love illustration and not concept art/design.  This helped contribute to my deciding to go to Spectrum. Unfortunately it was a bust as well. I did learn what the convention is like which is very helpful but I missed my opportunity to show my portfolio much. Basically there was a meet and greet night where it was chaos and I felt like the poor ADs were being torn apart by a pack of piranhas. I hoped to catch the ADs when they wouldn't be exhausted sometime on the show floor but unfortunately I only found one with their lei on (which means they are doing reviews). That saint of an AD was Jon Schindehette whom I already have somewhat of a connection with. He gave me great feedback with a lot of insight. It was exactly the sort of critique I was looking for. I just didn't make the new contacts that I imagined.

Weird Idea Experiments
Contest
It's not often I do any sort of work for free but I had this plan to run a contest to quickly spread my name as an artists looking to do book covers. Basically writers could get a free cover illustration if they shared the contest on their social media. The post ended up getting nearly 5k views which I am fairly happy with but I only received about 50 submissions I think. It hasn't lead to any work yet but I learned about some writer communities that I was unaware of so now I know some places to hunt for work.

Sponsorship
The other idea I had came late in the year. I was loving Paintstorm Studio so much and some people were picking it up based on my recommendation and yet I was surprised I haven't seen more people using it. So I thought to reach out and contact Painstorm Studio about potentially sponsoring me. I put together a whole pitch with numbers and a scaling system,etc. It wasn't going to be much money but with it stacked on Patreon money which was $100/piece by itself at the time it would have made it even easier for me to find time each month to work on Patreon pieces. They kind of agreed which was awesome but there was such a language barrier that I just dropped it before it could start. I just didn't want any money being exchanged if they potentially didn't understand something I said or I didn't understand what they said,etc. Still I was happy that it was a fresh idea for me that I developed and was technically successful at pitching.

Ads
I've never ran any ads for myself before this year. I decided to run an ad on DA which I think just cost $25 for 500 clicks. I thought with their huge traffic that it would quickly get the clicks but it seems with ad blocker and premium accounts there's not the kind of quick impressions that I expected so it actually stretches out over a long period of time. It only reached 50 clicks and 310,000 impressions. I didn't see any increase in Patreon or a significant increase in messages,etc. I'm still not sold that it was necessarily a bad decision. Maybe just need to find where I should be running ads.

2016 Plans
Pursue book cover work
Re-work my Patreon or develop a new way for me to pursue my personal work.
Try to attend the Spectrum Convention again.
Return to selling prints at conventions.
Sell Prints through DA - So DA prints are a real rip off for the customers and the artists get a pittance. BUT I've come to the conclusion that the DA market is a totally different market from what I see at conventions. So because I only make $1 on a print on DA doesn't actually mean that's a $15 loss at a convention. When I briefly sold prints on DA about 10 years ago I made some sales so hopefully now that my work isn't awful I can see some regular tiny income through there.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Finishing

Finishing a piece of art is hard. In highschool I think finishing was the biggest hurdle among artists  my age and every now and then I get e-mails where another artist is having trouble just finishing a piece. It seems to be a particular problem with personal work. I recently finished the piece above.




which started off as this thumbnail.



Shortly after the progress above I found that I wasn't looking forward to working on the piece anymore. This is a personal piece and I wasn't looking forward to working on it anymore? What the hell happened?! Nobody is twisting my arm to do this!  I wasn't upset with the work I just wasn't looking forward to working on it again the following night. So I began to ask myself hard questions about why. The piece felt generic to me.  There's probably a thousand pictures of women with feathers all over them in high fashion magazines, a dozen women dressed like this at every Burning Man, and two hundred illustrations of similar scenes. Why do I bother? The photography stuff is more realistic than my work will ever be and the illustrations probably have better costume designs. After pinpointing the reason for my sudden lack of enthusiasm I was depressed about the prospect of finishing it. Originally I was pursuing the image as an opportunity to do some up close details and make an image showing a rendering of several different materials. Someone had given me good advice that I should try to make pieces that showcase whatever I consider my strengths. I think my strength may be conveying textures. So I was perhaps focusing a bit TOO much on this being an image of a bunch of swatches of textures.

What brought me back around to being excited to work on the piece was remembering what the initial spark was for the sketch. The idea was a woman that birds were attracted to and she was eating them. That gets my brain going again. Ok so she's a trap. I was drawing magpies because they have shimmery colors in their wings but there's also the myth of them liking shiny things. Let's put some shiny stuff on her as bait. The wings on the side of the head kind of look like horns so let's remember that as it it makes her seem more diabolical. This background isn't literal. I wasn't thinking of her literally as a woman who sitting outside eating wild birds. It's a metaphor. This is about being lured. Being lured by shiny things. Shiny things like coins. Money. Is this an illustration about thinking pursuing wealth is a trap or dangerous? Is this about greed?

From there I was excited about the image again. It wasn't about a woman with feathers on her head. It was unbearable to work on an image about a woman with feathers on her head. It was a joy to work on an image of a woman with feathers on her head that was about greed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

GDC post-mortem and Patreon


GDC post-mortem

TLDR : The career fair was extremely wimpy this year especially considering I paid $195 for a ticket. I only found two companies where freelancing might be a possibility. All of the opportunities were more likely to be found at the after parties.

I went to GDC earlier this month as part of my new plans to more aggressively try to get out of the pen and paper RPG market and do some different work. I even put a little bit of thought and effort into being a little better at selling myself by maintaining a really positive attitude, smiling a little more even when idle and trying to use more positive phrases in conversation like "yes" "go on" and "continue"(little hard to explain). Not that I'm normally negative as I never say anything bad about my own work. It was just some techniques I heard for building a more positive experience in a conversation.

Unfortunately I think my portfolio still needs to be aimed more at this industry and I think the chances of getting freelance rather than in-house work is very slim. I need to show more examples of iterations on an idea and maybe do some orthographic images. My portfolio may also be too dominated by fantasy setting stuff. I focused so much on showing my absolute best work that I edited out what may have been a better spread of work to show. It would have been worth it to show some of my work that I would give a B to that were in a modern day setting. I had some work in my portfolio that was pixel art and more kid friendly but that wasn't the kind of variety I needed here.

I don't normally care for bars and parties with massive amounts of people whom I do not know at all but this is the year of doing things differently. My friend Dan is very into that though so I followed him around to all of the parties. This is where the best opportunities and leads seemed to be. Not that there were art directors here but that you have other artists saying they want to show your work to their boss,etc. That's obviously very different from the gaming conventions I attend where everybody is freelance rather than full-time. Those gaming parties are more of artists giving each other the heads up and which companies are good or bad to work for.

Many of the portfolio reviews were extremely kind but I still don't believe that anything will come from those. Only one of the reviews seemed like they were going to give any sort of criticism.

PATREON

Expectations

My expectations were extremely low since so few people know the platform or understand the model.  I sell a good amount of prints at conventions but I'd say there are only 5 people at GenCon each year who buy prints and originals not JUST because they like the art. They actually like/care about me and want to support my work and purchase at least one print and a sketch every single year. In Cincinnati there are about 3 or 4 more. These are people who are not related,co-workers,etc. I've helped spread the word about a lot of other artists' kick starters, have had great relationships with a ton of clients, give private critiques to many artists(at their request) and have given work many artists. I expected more of these people to pledge but only to pledge $1. I have over 1300 watchers on DA but only 11 who seem to fave every piece I post and I have some rapport. When I get my membership each year it's during buy one give one so I have given many of them DA subscriptions. I've never ran any crowd funding campaigns myself so I thought I had built up some goodwill. I did not expect old co-workers,family or friends to pledge. So realistically I only expected to be at $12/creation with 12 patrons.


Patron Reality

I was surprised to find how bad I was at predicting patrons. I have two ex-coworkers, a friend, an artist I have critiqued, a DA follower and two complete strangers.  The total amount is $63/creation so in a way it has been better than I expected at the start of this adventure but mostly just because one patron pledged $50. Still kind of disappointed by the number of patrons. I wrote this off as some people being cautious of a new platform and them being unsure as to what sort of work I planned to create.

I thought that once I created an awesome piece for patrons (and people received their rewards) I would see some additional backers or increased pledges. I released Cthaeh and it was super well received and has been my most popular piece in a while. I even marked it with my Patreon address instead of relying on people to read descriptions,tweets, status,etc. Unfortunately I didn't gain a single patron which has been a bit disheartening. Spreading it like crazy at GenCon hadn't yielded any results either. I sort of went into this with the expectation that I would only get $1 patrons but that with each great piece I would hopefully gain a $1 patron. So it would be a very slow but steady build.

The Good

I need to do personal work. I enjoy doing personal work. If I only had one patron pledging $1 it would cause me to want to get to work on that personal piece as soon as possible just so I'm not keeping them waiting. In reality it doesn't cost them any money until I've released the final piece but I still feel like I owe it to them to get them a piece as soon as I can.

Leverage! It wasn't long after creating my Patreon that I received one of those terrible e-mails asking me to make artwork under a work-for-hire contract for $50.  Thanks to my Patreon I was able to tactfully say, "look over here. People are ready to give me $63 to create whatever I want and own all of the rights. So I would obviously need a rate of at least X." In the past I've had to say no and give a rate and these sorts of people will talk about the exposure or say they can get somebody just as good even cheaper than their initial offer or they'll come back with an entirely back end payment plan. It's nice that I can now advance that conversation much more quickly and it has even resulted in people coming back with more fair rates. I'm considering whether it would be worth it to artificially inflate my Patreon just for giving myself leverage on regular jobs.

POSSIBLE CHANGES to make (actually I think I'm going to run and make these right now)
1.$10-for an 11x17 print level rather than $30 for 11x17-16x24. At conventions I normally sell 11x17 prints for $20 and 16x24 for $35 so this is a pretty great deal. $30 for print level on the Patreon is because I expected very few backers at that level and that level also earns raffle entries for the annual book which will cost me $120 to produce so I had to raise the cost so I didn't have to worry about getting slammed with that loss if I had very few Patrons. Also, I really wanted to offer higher quality and larger prints at this level. The sort of prints I

2.Encourage backers to pitch image concepts/themes. While I wouldn't make any promises, it could help patrons to feel involved and they may find the process more interesting when I'm interpreting written ideas.

3.?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Armature Nine review

I recently picked up a 3d printed Armature Nine reference figure and thought I would write up a review. I had the first gen of these and wrote a review but those are no longer available and the new model is entirely different. I'll start by showing you what the A9 looked like nearly two years ago.
An aside: Look at that crazy stage lighting creating those red and blue shadows.

Below is what the latest version looks like. I can't do a side by side comparison but the new A9 is much taller at 12 inches. This also means it matches the scale of other reference figures you purchase so that's handy. The added size means the new figure is $120 (after this figure DD had a price drop down to $100). I will probably use this for my bigger budget projects where I will actually add clay to the armature for creating complete sculpts and will remove the clay when I'm done. I'm hesitant to do that to my other figures as I think they'll be difficult to clean. The A9 completely comes apart so I expect it to be easy to clean. So I expect this figure to save me some time.
So the knees and shoulders are the only things that stayed the same. There's a lot more articulation in the new figure. The feet are a big improvement and I'm glad they got rid of the blades on the feet and the stand with grooves as it didn't work very well on the old one. You will need to use the stand they sell or bits of clay to get the figure to stay standing which I don't think is a big issue. The elbows are a lot less bulky than in the previous model.

The A9 isn't as intuitive as other reference figures but it's quite easy to pose once you've messed with it for a couple hours and sort of learned how to pose it. Digital Double actually has a tutorial video that goes over everything . The stand also takes some practice. I've mostly just used it to prop up the figure but I can see on their site where it can be put to better use.

While neither of my photos here show me using them, the points in the middle of the thighs and calves are very useful points of articulation.

The hips are probably my favorite re-design. You can get a greater range of motion but it also allows you to change the anatomy on the fly by being able to control how wide the hips are.  Most other reference figures have women with narrow hips so it's nice to be able to adjust these and stick some clay in to hold the hips in place. It's a really inspired design that let's you start to put some character into the figure. It also makes me excited about what they might do with future figures. Could they design it so that the shoulder could roll forwards or backwards or even something to make the shoulders even broader,etc?

The way the neck attaches to the head is also new and I think it's pretty clever.There's something nice about the point where it tilts being at the chin. Be warned that if you take the head off of the neck, it can be pretty hard to get back on.

The flexibility/range of motion between the ribcage and pelvis is great.

I don't really understand the advanced forearms of the new A9. The extra ball joint is supposed to be for ulnar flexing but it feels too high on the arm like it's too far from the hand. It's also such a limited range of motion in real life that I would rather use the simple arms version with more realistic hands that you can purchase.

FUTURE FIGURES
 After receiving mine Digital Double made a bunch of announcements so I should let you know if you're interested in this figure. From now on Digital Double bakes all of the 3D-printed figures. Just the head and abdomen of mine are baked. That means that all of the parts will pop into place smoother now and the figures will be more shiny. I prefer the matte finish so in the future that will cost me $15 to have a figure buffed to a matte finish. But they also dropped the price by $20 so it's kind of a wash and I might go with a shiny one just to save money. In the same announcement they also said there will be a universal peanut joint that connects the rib cage and pelvis that can be tightened and loosened with a screw. They also mentioned that they are going to try to bring that innovation to the neck as well at some point in the future. So that's pretty neat and it's nice to see they are constantly trying to improve the model.

OTHER FIGURES
According to their website, they have plans of making a horse armature! I'm super excited to see what that looks like and am far more interested in picking that up than any other figure right now.



You can check out their store here: http://store.digitaldouble.net/collections/a9

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Future

Quick update and promotion of my Patreon.

2015 is going to be crazy.

I was recently haggling over prices and the nitty gritty of a contract for work that has been very typical of my career when I realized how silly it was. I was trying to haggle my way into being moderately poor rather than severely poor. This has been typical of the last couple years so despite negotiating a rate higher than Paizo I decided to walk away rather than continue to repeat myself. It's time to shoot for the top this year and get out of the RPG/boardgame market. I won't be doing anymore characters on white backgrounds as I don't think it advances my career any. I've queued up a massive number of e-mails to video game companies and book publishers and the like for when my schedule opens up in early February. I'm putting together a simple website of the UI and 3D work I have done. I've bought my pass to GDC and will likely go to some other conventions where I've never ventured to pursue work. I plan to even visit some game studios' offices outside of GDC even. I didn't apply for a table at any conventions this year. I cut most of my work with a major client. I'm finishing my short comic this month and I'll be doing a seminar in February.

Some of this comes from wanting to make a better living but some of it comes from a conversation I was having with an AAC student. I was offering advice, good advice, and knowing that I do not follow that advice and the thought of it makes me uncomfortable. Well it's time I start following my own advice and ignore that part of me that justs wants to focus on the work in front of me and be comfortable and not risk failure.

A part of my moving forward is my Patreon which may become even more important than I realize if I fall flat on my face trying to move fully over to this other industry. Here are the thumbnails that are currently up for voting. Pledge to get a vote and support me. http://www.patreon.com/creation?hid=1472619 .